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Echoes of Incense

A Pilgrimage in Japan


Don Weiss

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Resources for Doing the Pilgrimage

There are four basic ways to do the pilgrimage, on foot, by bicycle, by private motor vehicle, or on a tour. Various bus and taxi companies can arrange a tour by taxi, minibus, or bus. Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage by Niki Ichiro contains ads for some of these companies. It is also an excellent guidebook for anyone doing the pilgrimage by car, motorbike, or bicycle. It can be ordered from Karamusu Publishing Company, Hiraoka 826, Takarada-cho, Anan-shi, Tokushima-ken, Japan.

Shikoku is an excellent place to tour Japan by bicycle. Before I walked the pilgrimage, I traveled about half the route by bicycle. If you want to travel this way, you should have a bike with some very low gears -- many of the roads on Shikoku are very steep, especially the roads leading to some of the mountain temples.

If you choose to walk, you should be prepared with some experience on long walks lasting at least a few days. Be prepared to travel with few things in your pack and without hurrying. I took six and a half weeks when I walked alone in the winter. Some people have covered the route in half that time but many take much longer.

The most pleasant times to do the pilgrimage are spring and fall. June is the rainy season in Japan, it often rains on more than twenty days in June. July and August are very hot and humid. September is often nice, but it is also the month when typhoons are most common. Winter, as you know from this book, can be cold and some inns and temple shukubo are closed. On the other hand, the inns are almost never full in the winter.

Foreigners who want to walk should speak some Japanese, should be able to read signs and maps, and should be prepared to occasionally meet people who do not want to welcome you to their inn because they are afraid you will be unhappy, rude, or both.

There are four excellent books in English that foreigners should read to prepare for the pilgrimage:

If you plan to walk the pilgrimage, you should send for
Visiting the Historical Places Relating to Kukai -- Shikoku Pilgrimage, Two Traveling Together by Association to Preserve the Henro Route. Write to Ryozenji, Temple One, Bando 126, Oasa-cho, Naruto-shi, Tokushima-ken, 779-02, Japan. They can get a copy for you.

You can buy the pilgrim's clothing, name slips, stamp book, etc., at many of the temples, including Temple One.

Koyasan is less than two hours from Osaka and Kyoto by express train and funicular railway. Many temples there have shukubo. Several, such as Haryoin, welcome foreign visitors.

There are several other web pages with information about the pilgrimage and Shingon Buddhism. The following sites have useful information in English:

EXPERIENCING THE SHIKOKU PILGRIMAGE by Ashley Wright The author walked part of the pilgrimage with Oliver Statler over 20 years ago and wrote this evocative piece for the Asian Wall Street Journal.
Jeffrey Hackler's SHORT PILGRIM'S GUIDE Mr. Hackler compiled a short guide to preparing to do the pilgrimage, mentally and physically. He has excellent advice for anyone thinking about walking part or all of the route.
David Turkington's SHIKOKU PILGRIMAGE GUIDE This is the most comprehensive on-line guide to the pilgrimage.
SHINGON BUDDHIST INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTEThis extremely well-designed site contains a wealth of information of Shingon Buddhism, including descriptions of the principle Buddhas and Bodhisattvas venerated by Shingon adherents and Shingon rituals and meditative practices.
Adjustment Within a Representative Japanese Pilgrimage SystemAn interesting paper given by Professor Hiroshi Tanaka Shimazaki at a conference on Pilgrimages that took place in India in 1999.
PILGRIM NETThis new site will soon have links to pilgrimage sites of various spiritual traditions.
Survival Japanese for pilgrimsJeffrey Hackler and I have put together a list of useful words and phrases for pilgrims. Please feel free to email me at with any suggestions, additions, or corrections.
Brief Introduction to Shingon BuddhismI've recently added this essay to the website. This is still in draft form and I'd greatly appreciate hearing from you by email at with any suggestions, additions, or corrections.

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Published by Don Weiss ( -- All rights reserved. You may read this electronic copy on the web or print it out for private reading but no part may be sold or included in any work for sale except for short excerpts used for review purposes.All photographs and maps are likewise copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission except for private, non-commercial use. Updated August 26, 2000.